Formulation and determination of foreign policy through elected representatives- PML-N

The Promise

PML-N on page 81 of its election manifesto promised that it would ensure that the formulation and determination of the nation’s foreign policy remain the sole preserve of its elected representatives, while the implementation and execution shall be assigned to relevant departments and agencies by the Federal Cabinet.


Pakistan’s strong military has directly ruled the country for a total of more than three decades since independence in 1947. The dominance of military over policymaking, political process and administrative apparatus was firmly established.

Pakistan’s Army considers foreign and security policies to be its exclusive domains. Officers pushed back against any interference by the political leadership in the management of military affairs. However, under the rules of business, no important foreign policy decision can be taken without the approval of the prime minister.

The Constitution of Pakistan’s Article 243(1) states, “The Federal Government shall have control and command of the Armed Forces “

However, the roles have mostly worked in the opposite direction; for decades Pakistan’s foreign policy has been controlled by the military establishment.

Ideally, the prime minister acts as chief executive of the country and is in the driver’s seat on top-level matters – from the budgets to foreign policy to appointments and operations of the leading military intelligence agencies of the country. However, military intelligence and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) have been controlled by the Army for decades.

It was the civil government that determined the course of Pakistan’s foreign policy in strategic understanding with civil-military bureaucracy from 1947 to 1951. From October 1951 to 1958, civil bureaucracy led Pakistan’s politics and foreign policy in close alliance with Gen Ayub-led army. And, during the Ayub and Yahya years from 1958 to 1971, the military directly determined foreign policy. During the 1970s, Zulfikar Bhutto re-asserted the nation’s foreign policy in strategic partnership with the army. More importantly, however, since 1977, Pakistan’s foreign policy has been made and implemented by its military. The civilian and bureaucratic input and impact is barely traceable. Little wonder then that the Director General of ISI visited the US before our PM landed there in 2015.


To track the promise, Truth Tracker contacted State Minister for Information Maryum Aurangzeb who after hearing the questions said that she is at an official dinner and she cannot talk; she then ended the call. Truth Tracker tried contacting former federal information minister, Pervez Rasheed on his cellphone but he also didn’t answer the phone call.

Truth Tracker contacted Minister of State for Privatization Muhammad Zubair. He said that it is the prerogative of the foreign ministry to formulate and determine the nation’s foreign policy for which they consult all the important stakeholders including the Army.

“We are presently at war both within and outside the country; we had issues with India, and Afghanistan’s interference cannot be ignored either,” said Zubair. Prime Minister and the federal cabinet formulates the foreign policy and but they consult other stakeholders as well, he added.

To a question about the appointment of the foreign minister, he responded, “The portfolio doesn’t matter since Sartaj Aziz and Tariq Fatemi are doing a wonderful job as advisors.”

The Prime Minister had to keep the foreign ministry with himself because the country is going through a difficult phase, Zubair said.

PTI’s newly appointed spokesperson Chaudhry Fawad Hussain told Truth Tracker that the present PML-N government doesn’t have the capacity to formulate and determine the nation’s foreign policy. The proof, he said, is in the fact that they failed to appoint a full-fledged foreign minister even after more than three years in power.

“Pakistan’s ruling party’s foreign policy at the moment is to develop personal ties with Indian President Narendra Modi, President Tayyip Erdogan, King Abdullah of Jordan and other leaders of the world,” said Fawad.

He said, “The military establishment or ISI will continue making the foreign policy of the country unless we develop a leadership with vision and capacity to foresee the problems we are facing at the foreign front in dealing with other countries.”

Independent viewpoint 

Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United Kingdom and a veteran journalist, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, affirmed that PML-N made a commitment in its last election manifesto that it will have an independent foreign policy framed through consultations with relevant institutions and their respective inputs.

Ambassador Wajid said, “Ever since General Ziaul Haq toppled the elected government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in July 1977, matters related to foreign policy issues have been solely dealt by the ISI and the Army.”

He said during General Ayub Khan’s time, Pakistan foreign policy became totally subservient to the American geo-strategic interests. And, Pakistan became “the fair-haired child” of Pentagon and State Department in American Cold War objectives, he added.

“It was Bhutto’s proactive handling of the foreign policy that created some differences between him and Gen Ayub and Bhutto parted his way after Tashkent Declaration,” he recalled.

He said that Pakistan’s foreign office was in full swing during Bhutto’s rule from 1971 to 1977.

According to him, everything took a U-turn during Gen Zia ul Haq’s 11-year rule when he sacrificed all national interests and sold Pakistan to be American Knight Templar in Afghan War against the Soviet Union.

“After General Zia, we expected that democratic governments would liberate Pakistan’s foreign policy. It did not happen though Benazir Bhutto tried. She had to accept Sahibzada Yaqoob Khan as foreign minister to continue with Pro- American policies,” he remembered.

“President Asif Ali Zardari during 2008-13 tried to subtly break away from the past but failed for the same reasons,” said Wajid.

However, Zardari laid a solid foundation for reviving Pakistan’s relations with China and visited nine times to materialise the blueprint of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor that is now taking concrete shape as a game changer. He also defied America when he signed the gas pipeline deal with Iran when it was under American sanctions, he added.

He said, “Now Nawaz Sharif is in the power for the third time and continues with India specific foreign policy but failed to remove the influence of the military establishment on the foreign policy.” The fact of the matter is that the outgoing Army Chief played more a role of a glorified foreign minister, he added.

He hoped that PM Sharif would succeed in freeing Pakistan’s foreign office after appointing new army chief.

Husain Haqqani, another former Ambassador of Pakistan to the United States, now Director, South and Central Asia, Hudson Institute, Washington DC, told Truth Tracker in a telephonic interview that Pakistan’s foreign policy is determined by its national security management and the PML-N government has failed to wrest control of policymaking.

“The PML-N has not been able to fulfil its promise of civilian control of foreign and national security policies,” said Ambassador Haqqani.


The statements of the two former ambassadors and a PTI leader indicate that the PML-N could not fulfil its promise about foreign policy formulation. At the same time, it appears that the successive governments of the PPP and PML-N tried to formulate independent foreign policy but failed due to various internal and external factors, therefore, Truth Tracker rules that the promise has been compromised.

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